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Arsenal closing in on Bayern Munich’s Luiz Gustavo

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Luiz Gustavo was an important piece of depth for last year’s treble winners, but in Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, the Brazilian international didn’t even make the bench for Friday’s opener. Whereas the system Jupp Heynckes used to claim last year’s Champions League used two players at the base of midfield, Guaridola’s only using one. Bastian Schweinsteiger has that spot. Javi Martínez is his understudy. Gustavo can’t break the 18.

That means the 26-year-old needs a new home, lest he wants to spend the lead-up to World Cup 2014 scrounging playing time scraps around the Allianz. Thankfully, Gustavo’s also gotten offers from teams in England, Italy and Russia, with reports claiming Arsenal will try to close the deal this week.

Depending on the price, Gustavo would be a useful acquisition for anybody, his ability to play in midfield or defense giving him the versatility to fill in at a number of spots. If your team plays a typical defensive midfielder, there’s a good chance he’s better than the one you’ve got. For Arsenal, he’d provided some needed reinforcement.

The extent to which you see Arsenal as needing reinforcement probably depends on your view of Alex Song. Arsenal sold their defensive midfielder to Barcelona last summer and didn’t truly replace him. The following season, the Gunners recorded two more points, still finished top four (albeit one spot lower), and allowed 12 fewer goals. Yet missing a  destroyer at the base of midfield, some felt Arsenal lacking.

That’s where Gustavo steps in. He is what’s become a typical Brazilian sitter – a player whose very strong protecting the defense (or, at times, dropping into defense) but doesn’t offer a lot in the build up. He strikes a ball well and can be dangerous running onto a shot, but he’s much more Gilberto Silva than anybody Arsenal used in front of the defense last year.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves on this one. First, he hasn’t been signed, and although the link (above) is from a reputable source, the language is the typical thin, nebulous content that’s regularly churned out by the London media. There’s no mention of potential fee, wages, and there only quote being used (“nothing concrete yet”) is ambiguous. We have to trust the report isn’t coming out of nowhere, but it could be stronger.

Likewise, we shouldn’t just assume Arsenal will move Gustavo into the starting XI. Some feel a prototypical destroyer is obligatory in today’s game, but Arsene Wenger was clearly content mixing a matching his non-defensive midfielders last season. The three central players who ended up with the most appearances were Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, and Jack Wilshire, but even the last two would sometimes find themselves out of the XI if Santi Cazorla was moved in from the winger.

And, as we mentioned, Arsenal’s defense actually improved last season. A lot of that was on the year-over-year improvement was saw from Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, but some of it could have been Arsenal’s improved ability to hold the ball. If that’s Wenger’s view, Gustavo could just be a tool in the box, something to use as the job requires. And it that’s not Wenger’s view, he could still see Arsenal’s back five as sufficient.

Regardless, this is Arsenal, and given how their summer’s progressed, there’s reason to be skeptical that this deal’s as close is being reported. But if Gustavo winds up at The Emirates, he should be a very useful part.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.